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The Most Popular Pizza Sauces to Try

When it comes to pizza, the sauce can truly make or break your pie. There are many different types of pizza sauces other than your classic red or white sauce. There’s sweet, really sweet, spicy, cheesy, and more.

Everyone has their favorite pizza toppings and the preferred types of pizza crust. But the sauce between the crust and the toppings is equally important to bring out all the flavors.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the most popular pizza sauces in the US, delving into how they’re made and which toppings go best with each sauce.

10. Chocolate Sauce

I’ll be the first to admit that chocolate sauce on pizza sounds like a crime against humanity.

But if you replace the crust with a sweetened dough and the mozzarella with creamy mascarpone, using melted chocolate as a sauce doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Dessert pizza might not fit the definition of traditional pizza, but it’s a playful twist on one of the most famous dishes to ever exist.

Dessert pizzas are topped with sweets like marshmallows or fruit slices, all of which pair perfectly with chocolate.

It’s because most toppings on dessert pizzas usually contain some chocolate sauce, whether a thinner, more liquid version (a la Hershey’s) or a thicker homemade ganache.

Sometimes, solid chocolate chunks are also added directly onto the dough and melted during the baking process.

9. Ranch

Ranch dressing is a bit of a controversial pick as far as pizza sauces go, but it definitely has a cult following.

Oftentimes, it’s used as a dipping sauce or is drizzled on the pie after toppings have been added, rather than acting as a sauce covering the whole bottom of the pizza.

Ranch is creamy and tangy with just a hint of sourness, thanks to the use of buttermilk.

It provides the right amount of zest to cut through thick bread and rich, creamy cheese.

Some pizzas use ranch in combination with another sauce as the base of the pizza.

One of the most common combinations is ranch and hot sauce since the creamy ranch is the perfect way to tame a spicy Buffalo sauce.

8. Butter

Butter is another unconventional yet popular choice when it comes to pizza sauces.

It has gained popularity over the years, and now plenty of pizzerias offer pies with a butter-based sauce.

A butter base brings a rich, creamy flavor to the pizza.

When the butter mixture is exposed to the high heat of the oven, it melts into the crust itself, creating a moist base for the cheese and toppings.

This gives the pizza a unique mouthfeel that’s richer than most other pizza sauces we’re discussing today.

Most butter-based pizza sauces are also mixed with other ingredients. My favorite butter sauce that I’ve had on pizza is herb butter.

Other popular options include garlic butter or butter mixed with Italian herbs and spices.

7. Hot Sauce (Buffalo Sauce)

Not to be confused with a spicy tomato sauce, using hot sauce or Buffalo sauce on pizza is far less traditional and gives the pie a distinct kick.

Hot sauce is much thinner than a tomato-based pizza sauce, so it can be put directly on the bottom of the pizza like a classic sauce or drizzled on top at the end of the assembly process.

Hot sauces vary depending on their recipe, but most are vinegary and contrast well with dairy-based ingredients like cheese and ranch dressing.

For these reasons, hot sauce and ranch are often drizzled atop pizza as a duo, creating a delightful juxtaposition in flavors.

Even if you’re not fully convinced that hot sauce belongs on a pizza, I firmly believe everyone should try buffalo chicken pizza at least once!

6. BBQ Sauce

If you’re looking to add some smoke and tang to your pie, BBQ sauce is a good place to start.

BBQ sauce is typically made with tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, and various spices.

It’s the perfect mix of sweet, salty, and smokey. 

BBQ sauce is thick and sticky, making for the ideal base to separate the crust from the cheese and other toppings.

The most popular BBQ sauce-based pizza is the famous barbecue chicken pizza, first popularized by one of the most popular pizza chains, California Pizza Kitchen.

Since then, other variations have gained popularity, like pulled pork and pineapple pizza with BBQ sauce (it’s a twist on Hawaiian pizza – don’t knock it till you try it!)

5. Sweet Red Sauce

Sweet red pizza sauce is similar to a classic tomato sauce, but instead of being tangy and savory, it leans sweeter and less acidic.

This sauce usually gets its sweetness from sugar, honey, or maple syrup.

Like traditional tomato sauce, sweet tomato sauce is seasoned with the usual suspects: salt, pepper, garlic, onion, basil, and oregano.

Everyone loves a little sweet and savory moment, so it’s no wonder that sweet red tomato sauce is one of the more popular sauce options to top a pizza.

It’s especially popular on Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas.

4. Pesto Sauce

Pesto is a green, herbaceous sauce that’s just as popular for pasta as it is for pizza.

It’s made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan.

The ingredients are mashed into a paste that has a consistency similar to a classic marinara sauce.

Pesto is a popular pizza sauce for its freshness and lightness. It has a zesty, bright flavor while keeping the pie rich and velvety, thanks to the addition of olive oil.

The addition of parmesan to pesto gives the sauce some salt and umami, but it’s not so flavorful that the actual toppings can’t shine through.

Pesto compliments a variety of pizza toppings – some of the most popular options are chicken, fresh mozzarella, and sauteed mushrooms.

3. Alfredo Sauce

Alfredo sauce is traditionally made with four simple ingredients: butter, grated parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Sometimes, heavy cream or parsley is also added to achieve desired texture and flavor.

Alfredo sauce is popular for pizzas topped with mushrooms, spinach, or chicken.

A good rule of thumb: anything that would be good in a creamy pasta dish will most likely taste great on top of Alfredo-based pizza.

With heavy, rich ingredients like cheese and cream as the main players, Alfredo can fill you up super quickly.

Pace yourself so that you can enjoy as much pizza as your stomach desires!

2. Spicy Red Sauce (Arrabbiata Sauce)

Spicy red sauce is fairly similar to a traditional red pizza sauce, the biggest difference being the spice factor, of course.

The name “Arrabbiata” comes from the Italian word for “angry.”

Most of the time, the spice in this sauce comes from crushed red pepper flakes or chili peppers.

It’s the perfect sauce for those who love the bright, zesty flavor of a traditional marinara sauce but also enjoy a little extra heat.

Spicy red sauce varies in heat level depending on the recipe – some have a slight kick, while others will clear out your sinuses.

Popular toppings to pair with a spicy red sauce include pepperoni, sausage, and even pineapple for a sweet-spicy combo.

1. Traditional Red Sauce

When it comes to pizza sauces, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that a traditional red tomato-based sauce will always reign supreme.

A classic red pizza sauce doesn’t lean too sweet or spicy and instead lets the mild, slightly tangy flavor of the tomato shine through.

Red pizza sauces are typically made with a simple blend of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and herbs and spices like oregano or basil.

When I think of pizza sauce, I think of a classic marinara that’s a little zesty but allows all the cheese and toppings to take center stage.

There’s a plethora of jarred pizza sauces at grocery stores, and most are pretty darn good.

You can also easily whip up your own red pizza sauce from scratch in just a few minutes.

One of my favorite recipes I always return to is from the blog Joy Food Sunshine.

Conclusion

A classic tomato sauce will always win the “most popular” superlative when it comes to pizza sauces, but there are countless other creative and flavorful options to dress up your pie with.

Pesto introduces an herby, zesty note to your pie, while specialty butter brings a rich, creamy element.

Whether you’re a fan of the spicy, the sweet, the classic, or the somewhat bizarre (looking at you, chocolate sauce), there’s a pizza sauce on this list for every palate!

Last Updated: June 23, 2023

About the Author

Samantha Jenkins is a food writer and digital marketing manager with a passion for storytelling, reading menus, and eating really good food.

In her free time, she enjoys baking, performing in musicals, and cohosting the East Coast Haunts podcast.